Tuesday, October 18, 2011

'Il Trovatore' carries extra resonance

Besides containing the most powerful collection of voices that Opera Carolina has fielded in recent years, the company's "Il Trovatore" contains a couple of reverberations from the big, splashy world of opera outside Charlotte.

Italian tenor Antonello Palombi, who plays the troubadour Manrico, made international news in 2006 when he made a sudden debut at Italy's -- if not the world's -- most famous opera house.

Milan's La Scala had hired Palombi to do a couple of performances as Radames, the tenor role in Verdi's "Aida." Palombi also signed up to be the backup for other occasions. On one of
those nights, he was on standby offstage -- warmed up but not in costume -- when star tenor Roberto Alagna went onstage for the evening's performance. Mere minutes into the performance, at the end of Ramades' aria, Alagna was pelted by boos. So Alagna did something that rarely happens even in Italy's tempestuous theaters: He threw up his hands and walked out in mid-scene.

There was no time to waste. The stage manager grabbed Palombi and pushed him onstage in his street clothes. Even if you don't understand the narrator in this report from Italian television,
the video will take care of you.

Palombi got into costume during the next intermission. And soon, media around the world picked up the story. Another biographical tidbit about Palombi: He grew up in Spoleto, the Italian hill town whose summer cultural festival spawned the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston.

The other reverberation comes through the music: an echo of a great American singer, Leontyne Price.

If you go to one of the remaining performances, be on alert early in Act 4. First, the opera's heroine, Leonore, laments the fate of her beloved Manrico, who languishes in a dungeon. Then an offstage chorus chimes in, praying for mercy for prisoners who are about to be executed. Leonore's voice sails above, and toward the climax, her voice rises repeatedly to a high A-flat.

That's what Verdi wrote, anyhow. But when Price was in her heyday, she spurned one or two of the A-flats and, staying with the right harmony, vaulted on up to high C -- to radiant effect. I don't think she wasn't the first soprano to do that, but she was the one who became known for it.

When Opera Carolina's "Trovatore" opened last Thursday, soprano Lisa Daltirus followed Price's lead. The last time the phrase came along, Daltirus, too, zoomed up to a high C. It took that prayer a little closer to heaven.